Elizabeth is right in the middle of telling him exactly how much she hates it when he ducks out of the scientific department heads' monthly project reviews, and he's busy working on not saying anything rude in response when there's an awful sound of metal crunching metal and they're both pitched to the floor of the transporter.
Her rant about his general failings at schedule-keeping transitions seamlessly into "What the hell was that?" She waves at the door sensor. Nothing.
John activates his earpiece. "Control room? Is there anything going on in the transporter system you'd like to tell me about?"
"Some kind of technical malfunction, sir." The tech's voice in his ear sounds confused more than worried, at least, so that means the crunching wasn't at all related to being attacked or one of the piers falling into the ocean. "We're... uh... we're not sure what happened, but yours is the only one affected. I've never seen anything like this before. We'll get back to you."
Elizabeth is watching him expectantly to report on the conversation. She still looks pissed.
He winces. "Yeah, this could take a while."
He never really bought in to this particular piece of team superstition before, but he's starting to think that Atlantis must actually be a sentient, conscious entity with an entirely wicked sense of humor.
Never mind the fact that he's been in probably eight transporters already today with nothing happening. Never mind that this has not only never happened before, but McKay reports that it's the only transporter in the city on the fritz (he calls it "lucky 13" because in their arbitrary transporter tube numbering system this is number 13 and, well, he's funny like that). Of course, they're trapped in the one section of the elevator line that runs between so much Ancient metal that it'll take six hours for a team of welders to get to them.
The lights flicker ominously above them, but after a glare from John, they stay on.
No, Atlantis is being especially cruel just because it's him, and it's Elizabeth, and he's not exactly sure if she's been avoiding him or he's been avoiding her but it's been a whole month since they were even in a transporter together.
They slept together exactly once, and talked about it exactly never, and now they're both stuck in a transporter with nothing at all to do.
Just his luck.
"You know," she tells him, "If you had just shown up at the geology debrief we wouldn't even have been in here." If there's humor in her voice, it's buried underneath a whole lot of annoyance.
"And if you hadn't come to get me personally, we wouldn't be in here either."
He frowns and thunks his head back against the wall. His gaze drifts over to where her long fingers are worrying a threadbare patch on the hem of her shirt. His gut tightens without his permission at the memory of peeling a red shirt just like that one off of her and kissing her stomach right – there –
Damn. "This is stupid."
She nods. "I think I've missed two meetings already. We can travel to other galaxies and we can't fix a broken elevator?"
That's not what he means, though. He's sick of bickering with her about dumb work things, exchanging unnecessarily sharp emails over inventories and staff briefings, when they used to just talk.
Looking at her used to fill him with a warm happiness, and now he just feels choked with a nondescript ball of... well, a ball of we had sex under alien influence, kind of, except no one else in the diplomatic party did, and it was amazing, and I felt something incredible, and now apparently we can't stand each other. They were summoned back to Atlantis with an urgent hail from Beckett in what turned out to not actually be cause for alarm. The next morning, he waltzed into her office to steal her away for breakfast, feeling unsure but giddy and unable to wait one second longer to see her, and then she dismissed him with her mouth set in a hard line and some excuse about needing to go check on Zelenka's progress with a malfunctioning water reclamation unit.
Since then, he's spent the past four weeks mostly hiding out and getting his head back together. Even McKay, who was on the mission with them and who doesn't need to be a genius to figure out what happened, stopped making awkward comments about it after the fourth or fifth day of John walking around like a bear with a migraine and a short fuse.
In his self-imposed social isolation, he's been trying to figure out if he's supposed to apologize or not (it was her idea, he sort of remembers, and neither of them had figured out they were being influenced until, well, the point of no return, and he might have said "Oh, shit," but neither of them said stop), and trying to figure out what's wrong with her. Elizabeth doesn't usually let things sit undiscussed for longer than a few seconds. Normally when he screws something up off world, he's lucky if the wormhole even shuts down before she's on his case with a meet-me-in-my-office and a we-need-to-talk-about-this.
If a month away from her has been depressing and pretty damned awkward, the prospect of six hours in a confined space with her is feeling even worse.
He finds himself glaring at the ceiling, in silent communication with the city. Not cool, Atlantis, he thinks. You and I are going to need to have a serious talk about your timing.
The city answers with a flicker of lights in a particularly It's my transporter and I'll do what I want to sort of way.
Elizabeth is also watching the ceiling. She clicks on her headset. "The lights are flickering again," she informs McKay. "Anything we can do to help them stay on?"
He doesn't hear McKay's answer, but he can see it in her face.
"Thanks anyway," she says, and sighs.
"You're not afraid of the dark, are you?" he asks. Then he winces. He hopes she's not afraid of being in the dark with him.
"No," she replies. "But if the lights go out I'll feel even more like we're never getting out of here."
He wants to laugh, but settles on a smirk. She looks away.
Damn. It's going to be up to him, isn't it?
Unfortunately, he's really bad at that. He glares at the ceiling again.
The lights stay on, but he still thinks Atlantis is laughing at him.
It feels like four hours and has actually only been two, and John is trying very hard not to wonder what they'll do if one of them needs to pee.
He's rearranging his calendar in his head when he notices Elizabeth watching him.
"Yeah?" His voice sounds loud in the transporter. Through the Ancient metal, he can't even hear the welding going on outside. The silence is adding to the general sense of doom.
"I don't know," she says, and looks embarrassed. "I guess I'm just surprised that we don't have much to say. Usually when we're together, we have something urgent to talk about."
He doesn't know why, but her train of thought worries him. It shouldn't. He's spent the last month thanking God that Elizabeth wants to remain professional and not let their indiscretion ruin everything, but she's been his friend for a very long time. He doesn't like the implication that they have nothing in common, or the way he can imagine Elizabeth using just that as an argument against-
Well, in the conversation they never had. And really, he should be grateful for that. Ignoring the hell out of him is a clear enough signal without her actually sitting down and telling him why.
So he says, "I'm thinking about training schedules. It's not that interesting."
She frowns. "I guess not." Then, a minute later, she asks, "You're not expecting the civilians to train at 0600 again, are you? I got six written complaints last time." She sighs, like making even that feeble joke was an effort.
"No," John says. Can't help adding, "It's impossible to make civilians do anything."
Elizabeth doesn't answer.
He really can't stand the silence. He comms McKay to make sure they're working on freeing them so many times that the scientist threatens to cut off his intercom channel.
Elizabeth takes pity on him or on McKay, one or the other. "We actually really should talk about Doctor Jhadav's proposal."
He wonders if she's looking for another reason to be upset with him. "I didn't read it."
"I know," she says. "I did. I can summarize it for you."
"Believe it or not, I do read most of the things I get."
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow, and that's when he realizes that he's the one trying to cause an argument.
"If you'd rather just sit here in silence..." she offers.
He's more mature than that. He is.
"Okay, summarize it."
The conversation about the chief geologist's proposal is as civilized as they normally are, but stops short when the lights go out.
Elizabeth comms McKay. "Any chance of getting the lights turned back on?"
There's red emergency lighting around the edges of the floor, and from that, he can see a silhouette of Elizabeth shaking her head.
"Great," he says aloud, because the first thing he's thinking of is the last time he was alone in the dark with her. He hears her breath quicken and curses the fact that for some reason, he can smell her much better in the dark.
"You okay?" he asks.
"I'm hungry," she complains. "And I want coffee."
He can't tell if she's smiling or not.
He jokes, "If I could, I'd order room service," and then wonders if that's inappropriate now. He would have said the same thing a month ago.
"John," she says.
There's a pause that's far too long. As it stretches on, he starts properly panicking about everything - McKay said something dire to her about the transporter. She's claustrophobic. She hates me. She's pregnant. She couldn't be pregnant, could she?
He's the one who breaks the silence, and surprises the hell out of himself when he says, "We should probably talk."
He wants this over quickly, though it will probably feel less like the metaphorical band-aid and more like setting a broken bone.
"You should go first," he says.
"You're better at talking," he argues, because after a month he has absolutely no idea what he wants to say, and because flattery sometimes works, even with Elizabeth.
"That's not fair."
He winces. He wishes he could see her face, but he's glad the darkness is giving him the same cover. "Yeah. You're probably right."
"We shouldn't have let that happen," she states. "Obviously."
He scratches an itch on his ear and ends up pinching the lobe until it hurts. "Obviously. I'm sorry, Elizabeth. You know I'd never do anything like that... on purpose."
That's not quite what he meant to say.
"We were both there," she says. "I was the one who..."
She pulled him aside and asked him a question, something stupid, but her mouth was right next to his ear, and when he wasn't able to stop from moaning she took the edge of his jacket in her hand and pulled him closer, out of view of the party-
"It was my idea," she finishes. "You shouldn't be apologizing."
He's pretty damned certain that it became his idea very quickly. He can't remember wanting anything ever more than he wanted her right then.
His palms are sweating and his heart's speeding up, just remembering it. It was very, very much his fault too.
"Those bastards drugged us," he points out. What little John remembers of Beckett's medical checkup involved the words mood enhancer. That probably doesn't get him off the hook entirely.
Elizabeth shuffles, rearranging the way she's sitting against the transporter wall so she's balled up, a much smaller figure than she usually presents. "That's how Carson reported it in his log. He mentioned a computer virus deleting that whole day of entries, anyway."
Like a broken bone. "That's our plan, too? Just erase it?"
Elizabeth says, "I thought you'd say that."
The lights start coming on and off with just enough randomness to be truly annoying, but not distracting enough.
Shit, John thinks, again and again, watching Elizabeth and trying not to be obvious about it. There's no reason – beyond the four hours they've been cooped up and the dizzying strobe-light effect – for him to feel this stressed.
They talked about it. Nothing she said surprised him. She doesn't blame him, he doesn't blame her, Carson erased the evidence, end of story.
He feels adrenaline like he's under fire and losing.
He has no idea how something can be such a colossal mistake when it seemed, at the time, like -- damn, coming inside her, with her mouth on his and her arms wrapped strong around his back and her hair brushing his face and every inch of skin. It felt, stupidly, meant to be. Like right then, in the alien equivalent of a guest room at a convention center hotel, was the moment everything has been building towards for four goddamned years, since he met her in Antarctica and thought this woman is insane and wanted, without logic, to follow her to another galaxy.
He feels like maybe he loves her, and like this is just about the worst time and place for him to realize that.
He needs to get out of here, but doubts he can talk in a normal voice long enough to check the welders' ETA.
A few minutes later, Elizabeth clicks her headset on and asks for an estimate.
"They've hit a snag," she tells him, affect flat. "It'll be a few hours."
He's still a little hysterical on the inside, wondering if this is what he has left now. They made a mistake, and now he's going to spend the rest of his time on Atlantis dealing with a shell of Elizabeth instead of the vibrant-passionate-funny-
"Fuck," he curses. "They can't do this any faster? We've been in here all day! What the hell are they doing out there?" He gets up to pace and bangs on the wall twice for good measure.
Surprisingly, Elizabeth doesn't tell him to calm down.
"What if something happens? Lorne's team is still off-world – if they need backup while we're stuck in here!"
In the flickering light, he sees Elizabeth half-shrug. "It's a peaceful mission."
"And these fucking lights!"
John slams his palm against the control panel and mentally commands the lights off.
Elizabeth's startled gasp is loud enough to pierce through his anger.
"Sorry," he says. He takes a slow, deep breath. "Really. I am."
"I'm sorry too," she says, and he really wishes he hadn't turned the lights off, because it sounds almost like she's about to cry.
"Are you okay?"
She laughs, and it sounds bitter, not at all like her. "I should be."
He slides down the wall to sitting again. Less confrontational, even though she can barely see him either way. Somehow, he feels better knowing that she's not thrilled with the way things went down, either.
"It'll be fine, you know."
She doesn't even pretend he's talking about the transporter. "I really didn't want to do this with you. We work together, and our lives are crazy and there's no room for anything else. I don't know what I was thinking."
"We were drugged," he reminds her.
"You realized that. I didn't. I know you would never have-"
"Jumped you on an alien planet while Lorne and McKay and Teyla had drinks with the alien ambassador?" When he says it like that, it sounds almost funny, like at some point they'll laugh about this the way they do so many other things that were major problems at the time.
"Something like that."
"Sometimes," she says, a hitch in her voice, "It feels like it's just you and me against the universe. Maybe that felt too much like..."
She's quiet long enough that he matches his breathing with hers, the only sound he can hear.
She says, "I probably shouldn't be talking about this."
He wants her to keep talking. He doesn't know how to say that.
"I couldn't do this without you," she says. "I hope I haven't ruined that."
"Not really anywhere else for me to transfer to," he points out.
She huffs out a sigh. "There's that, at least."
She says she's going to take a nap, but he knows she's not asleep.
He feels like he cheated her. She confessed something to him, something confused and not quite complete maybe, but he left whatever it is that he's feeling totally unsaid.
He can't let her blame herself for this. If he steps out of himself for a second and thinks, Elizabeth's brutally distant behavior of the past few weeks is the way she usually acts when she thinks she's failed deeply at something. Only, usually, he's there arguing with her point for point until she feels better, or at least feels well enough to join the rest of the crew for dinner in the mess hall.
It just feels different this time. Because it's him. Because it's important to him. And so, even though it's wildly inappropriate and the exact opposite of what she said she wants, he says:
"It wasn't the drugs."
Her head jerks up. Not asleep. "John..." It's a warning, the same tone she might use if he missed a roadside warning sign, danger-steep-drop.
"I wanted you," he says. "We would never have done that off-world without drugs. We should have thought things through. But you didn't coerce me into anything."
"I know," she says, a little patronizingly for his taste.
"No. You don't."
For a long, long minute with no lights and no sounds of welding and no breathing, he waits for the other shoe to drop.
Elizabeth sits up. She has slid closer to speak in a lower voice, as though anyone could hear them through so much soundproof Atlantis metal. "You make it sound like you don't regret it."
He can't figure out her tone. After four years, he should know her better than this. "I regret it if it means we can't talk to each other like normal people anymore."
Her fingers poke his arm in the dark, and then come to rest on his hand with surprising warmth. "I'd hate that."
"The past month has sucked."
She laughs and slides closer. "Agreed. Let's not do that anymore."
His heart is pounding in his chest. He has her back.
There's no reason at all for him to push his luck, for his hand to reach for her face in the dark.
She doesn't pull away.
He has no idea what he's going to say. Somehow, it comes out as: "I want to kiss you."
She makes a sound in her throat that makes his whole body tense, every muscle alert and trying to find the closest distance to cross to get to her. Christ. Four weeks of nothing but beating himself up couldn't get her out of his system, and he is so, so screwed.
She grabs his hand with hers.
"This time," she says, "We should probably talk first."
He squeezes her fingers and tries not to be disappointed, because he actually, surprisingly, completely agrees with her. "Probably."
In the dim red light, so close to her, he can just barely see her smile. "I guess it's a good thing we're not going anywhere for a while."
They do talk, a little, not enough, and they also talk about the scientific debrief policy, and they're playing dumb word games to pass the time when Elizabeth catches his chin in her hand and drops a chaste kiss on his lips.
He's too stunned to even try to turn it into anything more heated.
"What was that?" he asks. He touches her leg with his hand, not with any intention of indecency, just... connecting.
Maybe a little indecency.
"This is a really bad idea," Elizabeth tells him, but it's a happier tone than her antagonizing such-and-such alien species is a really bad idea voice. He can work with this one, he thinks.
"It won't be our worst," he points out.
Elizabeth laughs, the real laugh he rarely hears. He always feels pretty awesome to get it out of her. "Maybe that's a reason not to regret it after all."
He tugs at her sleeve to encourage her to slide closer to him, and wraps his arm around her.
Yes, he thinks, and relaxes. McKay can take his time.
"Six hours, forty-eight minutes, and still no idea what went wrong?" John is multitasking by grilling McKay while wolfing down his second sandwich. Elizabeth disappeared to her office to be reunited with her email (not before promising to meet him for a late dinner, after he finishes his post-incarceration-emergency-snack), but John's still not quite done here.
The welders never arrived, and their transporter started moving all on its own after a triumphant announcement from one of the techs.
"We know what went wrong," McKay retorts. "It was a freak feedback loop in the energy transfer systems that led to a misdirection and a logjam in the system."
"And that took you seven hours to fix?"
"This isn't exactly Otis Elevator here," Rodney glares. "I've wasted quite enough time on this problem for one day. I was actually doing important things before that thing broke down."
John eyes him. "So they're safe to use from now on."
"It won't happen again."
"It was a one in a million fluke."
McKay doesn't budge. Enough mysterious and unexplained things do happen in Atlantis, and it's not like Rodney is renowned for his generosity.
If he did arrange a prolonged transporter accident, he probably only did it because he was sick of having two separate meetings every time he wanted to tell the Atlantis command brain trust something.
John finishes his sandwich and shrugs. "Maybe Atlantis really is a sentient being after all."
"That's stupid," McKay says.
In the end, Rodney never admits to having anything to do with it.
John thanks him anyway.